They say your first impression is everything, but for 27 year old Kevin Garrett, it was all leading up to this moment. His first full-length album, HOAX builds upon his own aesthetic and musical intelligence from his first releases, 2015’s Mellow Drama and 2017’s False Hope.
HOAX invites you in, grips you with its emotional honesty and meeting of arrangements that will give your ears something different with every listen. Matter of fact, in how the record is formatted, it is due for a focused listen. Garrett doesn’t rest on his laurels. Along with his impressive vocal command, he broadens his sound with orchestral arrangements, guitar, and synthesizers. It’s as if you are flipping through a picture book of emotional peaks and valleys – that may mean something different to everyone. HOAX is the debut album that Garrett was born to make, that only he could make.
We caught up with Garrett to talk about his debut album, the recording process in which it was birthed which is more of an acclimation of roads traveled and more.
For your EP, False Hope, you have said that the theme was “I won’t break your heart if you won’t break mine.” With HOAX, which stands for “Hell Of A Heartbreak”, you’ve said that in circumspect, it came back to you and you being at fault in some way. I know that you’ve said that this album was the one you always wanted to make. With this being your proper debut album, how was the process from going from the EPs to a full length record?
I think with the EPs and the record – to me, it’s one big body of work. A lot of these songs were written around the same time as ones that have been out. There’s an overarching message or perspective that’s constantly being refined. In terms of experiences, there’s similar subject matter through different lenses. This album is the record I always wanted to put out; one, because it’s my first one. I can look ahead to the next project and not have to worry about getting the first one out. That seems to be a hurdle for a lot of artists. Especially independent ones.
More so, my take on this music is that I wanted to make sure I was telling a story and that it was an album that could be listened to in it’s entirely rather than a collection of songs that I thought were good. I figured that out for this record. I was able to explore new songs. This is the first time I worked with one producer for the entire album. I’m typically very hands on, so it was nice to be challenged like that.
By the time we got everything in it’s final state, it felt like it was finally there. I played it for some friends and the reactions were positive which is nice. I should pay my friends more. The one message was exploring new sounds and switching things up a bit. I like that, but this album puts me in a nice position to showcase other facets of what I can do musically, but give me different avenues to reintroduce different stylistic and production things. Things that might show up in other parts of my music. All the while still rooted in that R&B and soul influence that I’ve come to love so much.
You mentioned working with one producer, Brad Cook from start to finish on this album. As you mentioned, you are very involved in your creative process. How was this different?
Brad has a really polished set of ears, but the way he thinks about creativity is very organic. There isn’t any filler or fluff in his analysis of music. I think that’s really refreshing, especially when you’re dealing with people that deep in the industry. It was nice to work with someone who has a similar outlook on the way music should be consumed and created in the first place.
I think the challenge of it all was also the reward because I was put in a room with other musicians who were just as passionate about these songs as I am. It was really cool to have people going to bat for you with these songs and not just mailing it in for a paycheck. These guys were all very real and Brad was definitely in front of the pack on that whole side of things.
When we finished the album, there a little bit space there where I was listening to the mixes and I talked to him afterwards. He was just as excited as when we were first starting working on this record. It was cool to work with someone who was very into it from beginning to end. Our similar perspective on things was nice because you don’t have to worry about those type of opinions clashing. He gave me the opportunity to step out of that role that I had with my EPs and focus on new sounds and playing things differently.
A lot these songs were old to me, so ultimately, the thing to navigate was how could we breathe new life into these songs so they feel that I’m listening to them for the first time.
“Faith You Might,” you originally wrote with your college band. You retooled it for HOAX. I’m always interested when artists go back and add a little to older songs. Did this song feel different to you subject wise being that was created a while ago?
The cool thing with writing about feelings is that those seem to never go away and that they always seem to recur. In terms of subject matter, those memories or experiences are still part of my past and pool of influence that I tap into when I try to write new stuff. With the music side of things, there’s another nine-to-ten songs in a folder from my old band that never came out. Listening to those, if I played that, it would be like “we definitely need to make this more me and less my old band.” Working around the common thread being my voice and the introduction of synthesizers and other production notes, we were able to recapture that initial energy that was exciting when I first wrote the song.
There’s a song on the album called “Telescopes” that I wrote when I was 14. The reintroduction of guitar on this album was a glue or bridge that connected the song that I have out with the songs of this record.
There’s a line in “Faith You Might.” “Do I pray?/ no, but I have faith you might.” With the subject of love and ultimately, the ending of it, there’s always a hope of finding your way back to each other. I feel like HOAX touches on this. “Maybe I’m done, but then again, maybe, I’m not.” Perhaps, you aren’t either.
I think what you said is relevant because it mirrors some of the messages in the songs. When I wrote “Faith You Might,” it was more about the aftereffects of something, if you will. Kind of reestablishing your own self-confidence, but not being a dick about it because of that hope factor. Things can’t always get fixed, but they can be revisited. That’s definitely one of the messages that gets analyzed.
I just wanted to make sure that you can focus on whatever feelings from different angles. A song like that versus songs like ‘Just Because’ or ‘Title Track,’ that gives you peepholes from different sides of the room. All different types of modification to your character that comes with growth and maturity. Being able to look at something that may be sad in many different ways that you can.
Now with “In Case You Don’t Feel,” when I first initially listened to it, it feel like the song was closing the door on reconciliation. However, what was equally interesting to me was the visual. You’re standing there with all these dark colors cascading around you. The camera lens goes in and out of focus. Your face is obstructed. I feel that with this song, the video was very deliberate in what you were saying musically to pair together.
I worked with a wonderful artist named Sam Cannon who I discovered online through doing some other visuals from artists that I liked. She came to me with the concept of portraying the existence through this shadowed mentality. Without giving away too many of the magician’s secrets, she made a turntable out of shattered pieces of mirrored glass. It was a close quarters shoot. We were in a pretty small room. I was standing around broken pieces of a mirror.
While we were going through that, I really liked the way it opened the next chapter of music for me. Completely breaking everything wide open; un-shattering it, if you will. Once you get to the end of the album, we can put these pieces back together. That song is one of more dramatic ones on the album. With the strings and being very cinematic. It was nice to have an artistic visual for that song.
With this album, arrangement-wise, there’s orchestral arrangements, guitar, and piano to name a few. I listened to this album in a quiet room because you definitely pick up on something different with each listen. With a debut album like this that is confident in commanding your attention, did you go into with a cinematic, full listening experience?
I have worked with a lot of artists and consumed a lot of music like anyone else; especially in the pop world. It feels like the new age of streaming, social media, and people not wanting to buy as much music that we lost the art form of the album. If I never make another album again, I just wanted to make sure I made this one as perfect as I could.
After so many years, I went, “ok, I can’t make it that perfect, but I can make it as good as I can.” If I had my way, this wouldn’t have come out for another how many years until I could tinker with everything. At some point, it was like listening to it the way you described and thinking to myself, “I have so many versions of these on my computer and everybody will only hear these versions.” Unless I get hacked.
I was very intentional on making sure that this was something that had to be listened to at once. I was never chasing a “pop smash.” I always wanted to give people something bigger than just one song. If you really want to convey your message or art, you can’t do it in just one song.
I want people to listen to it front to back. It’s definitely a longer and somber record. You need to be in the right head space to listen to it. It’s also where I’m going for something a lot more timeless. It could end up being something that grows on you over time.